[Marvel Heroic] How to speed up play?

edited February 2014 in Story Games
I really liked Margaret Weis Productions' Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game, which debuted maybe two years ago. It does a lot of great stuff. But I have found it slow as HELL. In a scene involving 3 PC's and maybe 2-3 NPC's, it's not uncommon for a combat scene to last 2 hours. This may not be slow for folks accustomed to D&D 3.5 or 4e, but for my gang of mostly OSR-types, the conflicts start out fun and then after about an hour become just more of the same.

Part of this is the nature of MHR's mechanics. In order to do anything, you form a die pool - hopefully narrating how this stuff comes into play. If you're doing anything tricky with your dice, that requires a step of calculation and possible additional description. Then you do some more calculation once you roll: which dice came up with 1's showing, which dice to I want to use for my total, which die do I want to use for my effect. Again, you might want to do some tricky stuff with your dice once you've rolled them, which requires some extra thought.

And that's just half of resolution: once you take an action, the opponent gets to react, which entails all the same steps. (In fact, depending on what super power you're using, multiple characters might have to roll reactions.)

Some things I've thought about:
* Keep scenes small. Oh god, keep them small. This is kind of a drag given that super hero stuff is about wild and crazy set-pieces, but if it keeps play moving that's fine - we can do a big crazy set-piece every once in a while.

* Figure out what happens if you bump down the "stress tracks" to max out at d10 instead of d12, possibly for all characters, possibly for some characters only. Part of the slowness of Marvel Heroic is that it takes a long while to wear someone down. If you've got small-sized dice in your power set, you may need to hit an enemy 4-5 times to really knock them out if you're not sharp about spending your "plot points," which means making maybe 8-10 attacks. Reducing the number of hits needed, at least for "second-tier" characters, might improve matters. Maybe.

* Figure out what happens if you only need a single d12 "doom die" to end a scene, or if you can do it with 3d10 "Doom Dice" or something. Marvel Heroic has this rule where the GM can end a scene early by spending some of his special resources; the trouble is, these resources take a while to accumulate.

* Figure out how to resolve stalemated scenes. Sometimes I have the necessary 2d12 "doom dice" to resolve a scene early, but neither side has an obvious advantage. Ugh! So now we have to play out another round or two just to figure out who wins the tie-breaker.

Does anyone else thing that Marvel Heroic runs slow, and if so, what have you done to speed it up?


  • 2 hours? Oof! I thought my group was slow at about half an hour per fight.

    There are two things that help. THe first is a "Name it and claim it" structuring. The second is printing out these and handing one out to each player to organise their dice pools. Going through them in a structured way I find really helps.

    Also checking what size dice everyone is rolling. Because it takes much longer with d6s than d10s (and I find d12s make things far too fast).
  • I've not played this game(the resolution mechanic is from DitV, right?), but could you resolve the opponent's actions along with the challenger in one fell swoop?
    You'd form a secret dice pool, then show them simultaneously, winner getting to narrate both sides? Something like that?
  • Neon, how many players did you have? And what's a typical scene like for you? For me, a really simple scene with one "second-tier" villain and maybe a small mob or a large-scale threat might take 30-45 min with 2-3 characters, but something by very elaborate, like you see in Annihilation Event, is just a huge hassle.

    Nathan, you can but it's hard. A lot of the stuff in play means narrating cool fictional stuff, so if the GM is busy assembling his own nonsense, he isn't listening to the player's contributions. That would speed things up, but it's not necessarily fun.
  • edited February 2014
    I also am really confused as to why things are taking this long.

    Normally the player in my group yells "I shoot him with an adamantium arrow! 'Um, I don't have a cool quip.' I say." and grabs the dice and rolls 'em. A turn takes maybe a minute per player. Maybe two if they're using a SFX they normally don't use? Sometimes I interrupt with a cool mechanical idea. But in any event it never lasts more than 2-3 minutes or so. Since I don't have to interrupt myself, NPCs take virtually no time. WIth 5 players and 5 opposition pools (this includes some big villains and some pools of minions) that means I get around 20 minutes per go-round for the biggest hootin ist hollerin ist crossover issue throwdown that we ran in our game. Normally people get knocked out or things get simpler on the 2nd or 3rd go-round. I can't remember a time when we went a full hour, and I had five players.
  • I'm honestly perplexed why this is taking so long. 2 hours for 3 PCs and 2-3 NPCs?! That's nuts.

    Similar to JD, I've run more complex fights than that -- say, 4 PCs vs. 4-6 NPCs and the entire action scene takes, maybe, 20 to 30 minutes. And this is with players who aren't experts at the game; they've played maybe once before.

    I really suggest you find a Google Hangouts game and observe how others do it -- there's no way fights should be taking this long unless people are deliberately dragging their feet, are incredibly indecisive or absolutely terrible at math.

  • James, I've found exactly the same thing as you--and it baffles me. Here's a thread I started on it about a year ago.

    Since then, the biggest breakthrough I've made is to encourage more 'flow' between the points where people assemble dice pools. Previously I was finding that I was calling for dice every time someone said "I hit him". That was leading to an incredibly stop-start vibe to the fights. Now I encourage people to describe whole exchanges and revel in using their super-powers. Once things hit a bit of a crisis-point, I ask for dice pools.

    I also felt like I needed to improve the way I taught the game. So I wrote a semi-hack of MHRP called 'Introduction to Superheroism' to step me and the groups I play with through it.

    One rules-hack I do use is that if a character wants to help, they just hand over a die for the help they're giving. No roll required.

    @Denys: In the second post of that previous thread, you said "I wonder what I'm doing right?" Any additional thoughts on that?
  • I've not played this game(the resolution mechanic is from DitV, right?)
    Not quite - although DitV was obviously inspiration. But the secret to getting MHRP I find is not to look at DitV but Wushu. One dice per scene element. Name it and claim it.
    Neon, how many players did you have? And what's a typical scene like for you?
    The scenes I was thinking of involved four players, two of them new to the system both times and one notoriously slow. One involved The Hulk, the Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree, a crashing helicopter, a collapsing building site, and a bit more stuff. The other was homebrew - two scenes, one with two mobs and a second tier villain, and the other with a large scale threat and several mobs.

    That said anything that puts d12s into the PC dice pool I find makes the game worse. I wouldn't run Annhiliation
    Nathan, you can but it's hard. A lot of the stuff in play means narrating cool fictional stuff, so if the GM is busy assembling his own nonsense, he isn't listening to the player's contributions. That would speed things up, but it's not necessarily fun.
    As GM I assemble as I narrate. Doesn't take time. But then I am very good at juggling numbers in my head. And as I linked earlier, the dice pool strips really help.
  • An hour or two might be exaggerating things a little bit, but it's definitely in the "hour, give or take" area. Granted, we're conniving to throw in a lot of dice into the pool - you really need 5 or more to be effective - and that slows things down a lot. And also, I tend to like big set piece type battles (She-Hulk defending a cargo of gold bullion onboard a 747 with its engines on fire, the crew drugged, and facing off against the Viper and the Silver Samurai as a mob of AIM agents come swooping in on sky bikes, etc.) which can get mechanically complicated. I like those scenes, but boy, they take a while.
  • edited February 2014
    Whoa, you don't need 5 dice to be effective, there's your problem. This is a game where 3-dice die pools work just fine (two of which are obvious: an affiliation and a distinction) and a fourth is gravy. If you've got smaller die types, then use them to affect the situation/create assets and complication that other people can cash out to step things up, or keep the doom pool from going mad with power.

    d12s are not great dice to have in your pool, who can roll a 1 on them when you really need em? Not me that's for sure.
  • That's really interesting, JD. My second group definitely had a tendency to reach for the most dice they could when assembling a pool. Your note about smaller pools being effective would have been useful guidance to be able to give them.
  • Well, more dice is mathematically better, it's just not as much better as it feels.

    Consider a pool of all d8s. Add two of them together, the expected outcome is 9. For the top two of 3d8 the expected outcome only rises to 11 or so. For the top two of 4d8 the expected outcome only rises to 12. The chance of winning big rises (more ways to make 15-16) and the chance of losing big falls (everything has to come up 2-3 for a real failure), but the expected value doesn't change that much. But people really wanna pick up that 7th d8 instead of trying to find some other way of manipulating things.

    The ideal MHR die pool has:

    * A mix of die types - and if you can get that d4 Affiliation + Plot Point die, that's the most powerful thing in the system.
    * 3-4 or dice

    That's not to say that a big die pool doesn't have its uses, ut it's primarily in the realm of multi-attack SFX that normally pour all kinds of d6s into your die pool and let you keep them as effects. You will also note that this tends to make a big d10 or d12 power have significantly less impact!
  • The flow from the online game where, once people had some mastery, things went more swiftly:

    - (no handling time of finding dice because this was online)
    - first, say what you want to do
    - (sometimes: informed b/c you looked ahead at one of your powers that would be helpful, but that's it)
    - then step through each category, and pick the closest thing if anything
    - (sometimes: tweaking description/intent as you go if you find a much stronger die, but usually sticking with it)
    - rolling it all, noting the result/effects, and tweaking the final descriptions to taste

    I think the 3rd point above is one where things can get slow.
  • edited February 2014
    My home games tend to be slow, but I don't know if it's because of all the kibitzing or because I default to one big set piece fight. I would say it's a single Transition scene (half an hour) and then one, large set piece battle (3 hours), and then a Transition to wrap up and figure out the next session (half hour).

    I've run introductory games at cons and it goes like this: short explanation with character selection Transition scene (half to 1 hour), a short battle with mooks (1 hour), a Transition scene and short break (half hour), and the last set piece battle (2-3 hours).

    Edited: kooks into mooks
  • I have never run the game, so consider that with this advice:

    Forget the Doom Pool.
  • Agggh, do not do this. :)
  • No, love the Doom Pool and become proficient in growing and using it.

    The Doom Pool is awesome.
  • Seriously, the Doom Pool is great: a guy isn't hitting that hard? Megalomaniacally announce that somehow he hit a weak point and throw a die out of the doom pool back into your die bag (or probably the big pile of spare dice in the middle of the table) and watch what happens.

    The player will go "OH MAN, NOOOOO" because they are getting hit hard...

    ...but they will also feel satisfied that your resources are being depleted. You HAVE to resort to Doom to nail them.
  • The Doom Pool doesn't slow down the game. I mean, even if you don't like the Doom Pool, I don't understand how you can make a case that it slows game play.

    It sounds like players are taking a long time to think through and assemble die pools.

  • The problem is when you are playing in a way that is more supportive of your teammates. Because when you want to make a support action you roll against the doompool. When it is big enough you have no chance of doing your shtick and have to retire to just engaging enemies directly. I found this to be unfun for me.
  • edited February 2014
    Yeah, you want to get your supportive actions in early, while the doom pool contains small dice (this is more important than the doom pool being small for the same reasons as above.) Often times I develop a large doom pool but it's mostly full of d6s and still almost trivial to beat, because I need those d6s to spend to activate SFX and move villains up in the action order.

    Alternately, you want to target enemies with complications that they can't use their full pool against. Wanna know Thanos' defense pool against someone tricking him? It's d10 (Solo affiliation) + d4 (Distinction working against him) + d8 (maybe, depending on the trick). That's it. Expected outcome: 9.5 with a d4 effect die.
  • edited February 2014
    The trouble with using 3 dice in your pool is that you're running a risk that one of them might roll a 1, leaving you with 2 dice (and a d4 effect), or it might be an absolutely shitty roll in general. This enables the GM to win a reaction easily, and then spend d6 doom to turn her successful reaction into a counter-attack.

    (IME the game really works by using these counter-attack options, and also by spending plot points to add extra dice to your total to step up your effect die.)

    One trouble with keeping the Doom Pool loaded with d6's is that it's very hard to breed d12's. You kind of have to breed the doom pool up first, and then gather a bunch of d6's later. (Alternately, maybe keeping the Doom Pool low makes the game run faster, I don't know. My approach has been to keep the doom pool small and high-value so I can get to 2d12, and then grow it as needed.)
  • edited February 2014
    But you get a plot point when you roll a 1, which is the most powerful thing in the game. So losing that round is unquestionably not a bad thing, instead it's a good thing.

    I rarely concluded a scene with the 2d12, only when players got unlucky and fed doom so fast that I couldn't spend it enough.
  • edited February 2014
    True, but you can win the action and earn a plot point with a larger pool. Furthermore, with a very small pool, not only will you fail in your action, but the GM can then hammer you on the reaction, basically getting a free turn. I'm not saying that a small pool is bad play - it's certainly dramatic and maybe speeds things up - but I can certainly understand a player's desire to roll 4-6 dice if they can justify it. I suspect that's the mechanical justification for SFX like Multipower and Versatile, as well as being able to split your Specialities down into smaller dice.

    As to the merits of earning plot points, I agree that getting 1+ plot points on a roll is probably better than succeeding. But arguably the best thing you can do with a plot point is keep another die to add to your total, or keep another effect die, and both of those presuppose a pool of at least 4 dice and ideally more when you really gotta throw down.
  • The Doom Pool also has an interesting narrative effect: when it gets large, or when some d12s appear, my players start feeling that things have become dire, and they get excited as they whittle it down. It's an emotional pacing mechanic.

    This may seem obvious, but it didn't really hit me until one of my players reacted to the Doom Pool size in this manner.
  • One thing that I think I should do, but keep forgetting because the game is slow enough (for me) already, is to narrate what the heck causes the doom pool to grow. In theory, an opportunity is a screw-up or flub or imperfection that allows the situation to get more FUBAR, where the Doom Pool is your measuring stick of FUBAR-ness. But in the moment I'm like, "Dang it this thing is taking forever, let's just swap points and move this along."
  • edited February 2014
    But in the moment I'm like, "Dang it this thing is taking forever, let's just swap points and move this along."
    Don't worry: if that's what you're doing, then you're doing it the right way. Trying to (over)explain dice going into Doom is really not that useful or interesting (at least, not more useful or interesting than the description and dice pools the players put together for their action). The tension of adding dice to Doom is enough, you don't need to talk it to death and distract from the actions of the PCs, in my opinion.

    Spending OUT of Doom, though, that's worth talking about. As lin_fusan and JDCorley point out, it's exciting when Doom gets whittled down, and knowing that the GM just had to pull a d8 out of there so that Baron Von Badguy could avoid taking physical stress from that attack feels good. Don't pass up an opportunity to say what the villains just did (and what you paid out of Doom to make happen).
  • One thing that I think I should do, but keep forgetting because the game is slow enough (for me) already, is to narrate what the heck causes the doom pool to grow. In theory, an opportunity is a screw-up or flub or imperfection that allows the situation to get more FUBAR, where the Doom Pool is your measuring stick of FUBAR-ness. But in the moment I'm like, "Dang it this thing is taking forever, let's just swap points and move this along."
    Yeah, this is something that's not 100 percent necessary. If you're already going too slow, you don't really lose something by not doing this. But you SHOULD have a transparent doom pool and loudly/maliciously announce when you're using it.
  • Could it be that maybe you are just playing fights until the bad guy gets taken out? The conflicts can be over LONG before that if the narrative makes sense.

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